(Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
Palestinian militant group Hamas has accused Israel of intentionally flooding the Gaza Strip during a massive storm last week. But Israel says that the dams it is accused of opening don't even exist.
"The allegation of [Israel] opening dams and flooding the Gaza Strip is baseless and false," Uri Schor, a spokesman for Israel's Water Authority, shared with The Times of Israel in response to the accusations, adding that no dams exist in the area.
"The opposite is true: due to the damage caused by the storm – which affected all neighboring countries and not only the Palestinian Authority – Israel responded to a special appeal conveyed through the UN, transferring four high-power pumps to the Gaza Strip intended to help residents remove water from flooded areas."
According to reports that have made headline news in the Middle East this past week, Hamas has claimed that Israel is responsible for the flooding, with its Disaster Response Committee chairman, Yasser Shanti, alleging that Israelis opened dams east of the Gaza Strip. Civil Defense spokesman Muhammad Al-Maidana further added that the opening of the dams exacerbated the crisis and raised the water level, "causing homes to be submerged."
"The Zionists, of course, have taken advantage of the situation, sending some pumps and supplies which they had deprived the besieged Gaza Strip of," added Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau.
"Later, the occupation forces opened the Wadi Salqa dams to sink dozens of Palestinian homes in the central region of the Gaza Strip, thereby sending two contradictory messages!"
The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories argued, however, that such false rumors surface every year when Gaza experiences high rainfalls and flooding.
The widespread flooding that hit the region, caused by storm Alexa, has forced close to 40,000 residents to flee their homes, and U.N. agency UNRWA has described parts of the northern Gaza Strip as a "disaster zone." The torrential rains of 10.23 inches between Dec. 11 and 13 reportedly broke a 50-year record.
An Egyptian border blockade of the territory is reportedly hampering rescue efforts. U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness urged, "The world community needs to bring effective pressure to end the blockade of Gaza," according to the Associated Press. He added that Gaza "must be freed from these man-made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this."
Gaza residents did receive a bit of relief this week, Haaretz reported, with news that their daily 16-hour electricity blackouts will be held off for three months, after Qatar donated $10 million to Gaza Strip's power plant.
The tension between Israel and Hamas heightened last year, after the Islamist organization fired rockets that killed three Israelis north of Gaza, leading the region to the brink of war.